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Analyzing the curious case of Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. being an NFL first round pick

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. arguably could be the most polarizing prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft class.

After throwing for 430 yards and two touchdowns, Penix led the Huskies to a 37-31 victory over Texas in the Sugar Bowl. Many believed he had done enough to secure himself as a first-round draft pick. But Michigan flattened Washington, 34-13, in the College National Championship, and Penix’s two interceptions had analysts questioning whether he could become an NFL franchise quarterback.

“The semifinal game was awesome,” NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said about Penix on a conference call. “He moved around better in the pocket than I had seen him previously, which was good to see. I mean, he threw some seeds in that game. Just back-foot missiles where he just hangs on his back foot, and the ball jumps out of his hand.

“I thought that the thing that showed up in the championship game, number one, they hit the stuffing out of it. They got to him. I thought that kind of rattled him a little bit from that standpoint. I didn’t think the pocket movement was as good as we saw in the previous game.”

There’s a lot to like about Penix. Whether at Indiana or after he transferred to Washington, Penix has shown he is a playmaker on the field.

At Tampa Bay Technical High School, Penix was named the Hillsborough County’s Player of the Year after passing for 2,165 yards, 30 touchdowns, and five interceptions as a senior. He then committed to playing college football at Indiana.

In four seasons with the Hoosiers, Penix threw 29 touchdowns. But injuries have been the story with Penix his entire college career.

At Indiana, Penix suffered two separate season-ending ACL injuries. He also had a non-throwing shoulder injury that cut his season short.

With two years of eligibility remaining, Penix revived his career after transferring to Washington, where he became one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. In 2022, Penix passed for 4,641 yards, 31 touchdowns, and eight interceptions after leading the Huskies to an 11-2 record.

Penix followed that up with an even better 2023 campaign. He was second in the Heisman Trophy voting after finishing with 4,903 yards, 36 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and leading Washington to a 13-0 regular season and a Pac-12 Championship.

“I feel like the biggest thing is confidence, especially at this position at the next level,” Penix said at the NFL Combine. “You have to be confident in your decisions. You’re not going to be perfect, you’re going to make mistakes, but I feel like they want to see how you are going to respond to those mistakes.

“Are you going to keep making the same mistakes, or are you going to learn from your mistakes and continue to grow, and I feel like everything I’ve been through, I’ve always been able to grow and learn from it.”

Penix’s stock has remained about the same during the pre-draft process. Some analysts believe he is still a second-round prospect despite his success over the last two years.

Some critics have said Penix can only be successful with a clean pocket. In the game against Michigan, Penix completed just 52.9% in the 21-point loss after being pressured several times. That led to him overthrowing targets.

Penix’s age has also been a concern since he will turn 24 on May 8.

Then there’s the talent that surrounded Penix at Washington. The top three Huskies receivers are expected to be selected in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft, including Rome Odunze, who will almost certainly be a top-10 pick.

However, Penix, as a left-handed quarterback, has elite arm strength and deep ball accuracy. He has the confidence to trust his receivers to catch contested balls in tight windows.

Penix is also deceptively mobile and ran a reported 4.46-second 40-yard dash time at the Washington Pro Day. Where Penix goes could determine whether he ultimately succeeds in the NFL.

After Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, and Drake Maye, there are questions about who will be the fourth quarterback selection in this month’s draft. Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy could also be a top-10 pick. Teams like the Vikings, Broncos, Raiders, Saints, and Seahawks could all be in the market to add a quarterback.

With many teams needing a signal caller, it wouldn’t be surprising if a team selected Penix in the first round, given all he brings to the table.

“There’s a lot to like about Michael Penix Jr. when you really study his tape,” NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks said. “You are talking about a guy that was 10-1 against Top 25 teams during his time at UW. Then you go back to his Indiana career, this guy played great and lifted that program.

“He is a guy that is comfortable being the face of the franchise. The issue that you have with Michael Penix has little to do with his game. Arm talent is spectacular, he makes plays, high IQ. The injuries, he finished which would be on IR [injured reserve] with injuries.

“How do you deal with that when you’re an evaluator? That is the rub that’s happening in the debates in meeting rooms. Can you trust that he is going to be a reliable player who’s going to show up every week, or is he going to be a flash in the pan where you fully don’t get to realize that talent?”


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